As a new-found advocate for Scottish football, Steven Gerrard is prepared to paint on the blue woad. But the Rangers manager believes that the game up here could do more to paint itself in a better light. The 39-year-old presents a less than ringing endorsement of the sport he has immersed himself in for the past year.
Reared on the glitz and glamour of the English game in a country with ten times the population of its neighbour above, the unavoidably small-time nature of football north of the Border – where the entire budgets of three top flight teams can amount to less than the salary for one player in the English Premier League – has made for a tough watch for him, at times, and resulted in Scottish football being a tough sell for him when speaking to prospective signings. Yet, the reality is that short of Sky and BT Sport investing in CGI, his main gripe that centres on the, sometimes, paltry numbers attending games is impossible to address.
“I think certain games have been good,” he said. “Certain games we’ve played in, or I’ve watched, they’ve been a higher level of quality than I originally thought. But at times I’ve been a bit disappointed watching certain games. I’ve been to certain games too and the stadiums haven’t been full and when it’s come to the standard the ball has been in the air a lot. To be honest, it’s been a little bit worse than I thought. So it’s probably been a bit mixed.
“I think about some of our games against Aberdeen and Celtic and they’ve been so enjoyable because they’ve been so fierce and quick and intense. That’s the level you want to see.
“It’s not to criticise Scottish football or any individual teams.Sometimes you see stands that are empty on TV, which doesn’t look great in my opinion. But at times there have been games where the level has really blown me away and the standard of individual players has been top level.
“There are a few things [I’d change] , but it’s a debate that’s open to everyone; not just me.
“Of course, try and fill stadiums more but that’s tough. There are a lot of reasons why they aren’t full. I wouldn’t have plastic pitches, but that’s no surprise to anyone. I’d also be more cute and clever with the camera angles. Maybe if they’re putting certain games live on BT or Sky they should change the camera angles so you see a full stand rather than an empty one…I don’t understand it. You go live on BT or Sky Sports around the world and you have a camera on an empty stand. It’s ludicrous, I don’t get it.
“It [empty stadiums] comes up in conversation when you are chatting to players. It is just my opinion, only a small thing, but I want Scottish football to be as good as it can be, I want a Scottish manager going in there [to the national team], I want them playing the right way. I want to back all that. I am employed at a Scottish club, working with Scottish people.
“I want your national team to be as good as it can be, which is weird coming from an Englishman I suppose. But I am part of it now and I have a responsibility to help that. I want the game to be better up here, and I want it to look better on the eye. There are little subtle things that you can maybe do.”
Gerrard’s complaint has echoes of a regular refrain from Gordon Strachan who expressed dismay and bewilderment that more Celtic and Rangers home games weren’t shown instead of away fixtures at the smallest grounds in the top flight. That isn’t a potential solution that the former England captain would back.
“No, I think it is important to show the whole league, not just the Old Firm,” he said. “We have played some very good games against the lower teams and they have made it very difficult for us. I like going to all the old traditional stadiums, I love it, in fact.
“But when I am watching Sportscene and so on there is nothing better than to see full stands, supporters enjoying themselves and full stands. But the empty stands are all over Sky and BT.”